Is it illegal to seek asylum? Is it illegal to go to another country seeking safety and protection? Well, that’s a difficult question to answer these days when over 50 million persons have fled their country in search for peace.
Australia is the only country in the world where asylum seekers who arrive without a visa are met with mandatory detention and offshore processing.
Every year thousands of men, women, and children land on Christmas Island seeking asylum. They come from many different countries and they arrive by boat: Iran, Afghanistan Somalia. In 2006 the Australian government built a high security detention facility on the island where asylum seekers are detained indefinitely— sometimes for years. This uncertainty can wreak havoc on a person’s emotional wellbeing. A person’s mental faculties begin to break down and his or her sense of sense and identity starts to fragment.
This film highlights the work of one trauma specialist who uses unconventional tools to get the prisoners to tell their stories. She encourages them to do it in a way that is meaningful to them without any external influence regarding what information they need to divulge. Losing one’s liberty without having committed a punishable crime can be difficult. The detention center basically owns each person’s time and dictates when each one can eat or rest. Those who rebel are then punished severely or simply made to disappear.
The detainees are aware that they should not have tried to enter the country illegally, and many regret having left their loved ones behind. The whole idea behind running away from their countries was the desire to find a better life, not to end up with more of the same. Many of them feel that the Australian government’s response is cruel and extreme. However, Australia’s current annual intake of refugees is over 13,000.
During her sessions with the inmates, this trauma specialist uses sand and plastic toys to help them process what they’re going through. Many of them report positive results such as fewer nightmares, but a few actually get worse and start thinking about suicide as if it were a viable option.
The whole experience is also hard on the trauma specialists. They get to watch with horror how the authorities show absolutely no respect for human life and how their recommendations are blatantly disregarded.